It's wrong to accept mediocrity - both on and off the pitch
Bafana's choreographed jive after goalless draw a monument to buffoonery
For a week, back in 2000, Zimbabweans allowed themselves to be distracted from the disasters facing their country.
Inflation was running rampant; fuel was becoming a precious commodity, and Robert Mugabe's goons were beating up anyone and anything standing in the way of their great leader's crazy plans.
The country was on its way to Armageddon. Zimbabweans were extremely fearful of the future.
But in that particular week, the nation's gaze was fixed on a soccer match in which the national team were attempting to qualify for the 2002 World Cup.
There was a sense in the country that it was possible for the Warriors to grant the nation a respite from its woes.
Alas, it was not to be. The Warriors failed to qualify for the biggest soccer tournament in the world, plunging Zimbabwe deeper into depression.
On the Monday after the game, the Herald newspaper announced that "thousands" of fans would gather at Harare International Airport that Wednesday to protest against the team's performance. The paper gave the time and flight number on which the team would be travelling. On Tuesday, the announcement was repeated, just to make sure the masses came out in numbers. By Wednesday the newspaper was foaming at the mouth, predicting fireworks at the airport that evening.
So they did turn up, although not in their thousands as predicted. But what they lacked in numbers they made up for in voice and anger. And the players certainly got a mouthful from their supporters.
The point here is that, even in their worst moment, Zimbabweans believed they could be greater.
Contrast this anger with Monday night's heroes' welcome for the Springbok team that had been bundled out of the Rugby World Cup at the quarterfinal stage.
Hundreds of green-and-gold-clad fans swarmed to OR Tambo International Airport, waving flags and cheering the losing players. They sang and sought autographs. You would have sworn that the men who were being welcomed had achieved some amazing feat in New Zealand. We were behaving like England, a nation where accepting sporting defeat has become second nature.
By the middle of the week we had moved on, accepting that the 2007 world champions could manage only two narrow wins against Wales and Samoa, a whitewash of Namibia and a thrashing of Fiji. We had put behind us the fact that when it came to crunch time, the Boks collapsed, despite dominating possession.
They were simply mediocre out there - and by giving them a heroes' welcome, SA was celebrating mediocrity.
We had done the same two days earlier when the nation celebrated Bafana Bafana's 0-0 draw against lowly Sierra Leone, which has a significant portion of the population on crutches.
Before discovering that the high-ups at Safa had been truly incompetent when it came to their calculations, South Africans were prepared to accept the goalless result as a victory.
That image of Bafana players doing the choreographed jive on the pitch will forever be etched in our memory as a monument to buffoonery and a lack of ambition.
Bafana coach Pitso Mosimane offered this piece of wisdom after discovering his charges had let the nation down: "It's very sad for SA because the country deserves to be in next year's Nations Cup. I feel like I have failed."
Well ... ehm ... coach, you DID fail.
He went on to justify his tactics.
"Do you think I would have left [striker Lehlohonolo] Majoro on the bench and put on a midfielder if I knew that we needed a goal? It doesn't make sense."
Well ... ehm ... coach, isn't the objective to score goals?
He then went on a self-pitying rant about the continent on which he lives.
"Africa is a jungle, my friend. The European and South American formats are so much better because everything is running smoothly, but it's very difficult to play in Africa."
Well ... ehm ... coach, South Africa is in Africa and that is unfortunately where your team is always going to compete.
Last year we accepted without recrimination Bafana's first-round exit from the Soccer World Cup. Yes, no one had expected Aaron Mokoena to lift the trophy on July 11 2010, but the nation's hopes were that the team would at least die with their boots on.
But this week's events at the airport and the protestations of Safa over the implementation by the Confederation of African Football (Caf) of a standard rule in the association's competitions, demonstrated our willingness to accept mediocrity.
It is a malaise that unfortunately runs deep in our society.
If we are to allow our sportsmen and women to have a "So what!" attitude to winning, what chance do we have when it comes to achievement in the economic, scientific and academic spheres?